Monday, September 5, 2011

Rare Coins in A Job for Susan

A 1951 penny, just like the one Susan received from grumpy Sir Arthur Symes. 

Ever since I first read A Job for Susan and enjoyed the gang's hunt for rare coins, I've been curious about the claims made in the article Susan read at the end of Chapter 8, A Fishy Offer. Entitled SMALL CHANGE THAT IS WORTH A FORTUNE, the article claims that a 1951 penny is worth £10, while a 1950 penny is worth £12, if they are in mint condition and uncirculated. Fair enough. However, there are two other claims that are harder to believe. One is that the 1954 penny was on offer in America for $30,000. This is a lot of money today; back in 1969 it was an even more astronomical figure. And the article also informed Susan that if she found a 1954 half-crown, then she would have "hit the jack-pot".

So how much of all this is actually true? Pennies from 1950 and 1951 change hands for up to £80 if in absolutely mint condition, although they can be acquired for less. One website I consulted said that in the late 1960s, as the way was being paved for decimalisation, a 1951 penny was indeed worth £10. So the claims about the 1950 and 1951 pennies turn out to be true. Now we can turn to the 1954 penny. Again, Jane Shaw had done her homework. Only one penny was struck by the Royal Mint in 1954, and that was for internal purposes. This coin is now in a museum and, were it to come up for auction, it would be expected to fetch between £50,000 and £60,000.  The author had also got her facts right when Susan  found a 1951 penny and took it to a dealer. As the coin was circulated, he gave her only £3 rather than  ten.

The only claim that cannot be substantiated at all is the value of the 1954 half-crown. These change hands on e-bay for as little as one dollar. I decided to do a little further research to try and clear this up. First of all, collectors put coins into categories according to their condition, e.g., PO or PR = poor, UNC = Uncirculated, AU = Almost Uncirculated, VF = Very Fine, FA = Fair. The best possible condition is FDC or Fleur de Coin, which usually refers to what are known as proof coins. These are coins that are specially made for collectors and are usually struck twice. They may also be hand finished. One dealer said that on a good day, an exceptionally fine FDC proof half-crown might fetch as high as £2000. Most other dealers would offer substantially less. Therefore, the claim in A Job for Susan that at 1969 values a 1954 half-crown was worth £12,000 (nearly £90,000 in today's money) and that there was only one known copy in existence is nonsense. I wonder what story lies behind this. Could it be that the year is misprinted and should be 1854 or 1914? Unlikely, since the year is specifically stated twice in the text. Was it some sort of joke to get people rushing to coin dealers with almost worthless old coins? Or was it just a research error or carelessness? We'll never know...